The New Unionism
First, could you tell us how you became a militant trade unionist?
Well, my initiation wasn’t in the trade union at all. It was in the political movement. At the age of fifteen I decided that the world was wrong and I wanted to put it right, virtually overnight if possible. I did two things. First of all I wrote to the Labour Party and asked them if there was any youth organization which I could belong to, or if there was any association at all where I could play a part. Additionally I wrote to the British-Soviet Friendship Society; I was reading the Daily Worker at this time, and asked them if I could join because I wanted to further friendship between peoples. I got a reply from them but I didn’t get a reply from the Labour Party in spite of two more letters. I thought here I am, I want to contribute to a world where I know everything’s wrong and I want to try to put it right, at least play my part. I read Jack London’s novel the Iron Heel and many other of his works. I think he was more responsible for me being a socialist than anything. I was shocked that we can have a world of plenty and still starvation. And so I wrote to the Daily Worker and asked if there was a young Communist Party I could join. Within twenty-four hours they were at my house and I joined the Young Communist League. I was in the Young Communist League for about six or seven years and I became a member of its National Executive Committee responsible for industrial work. The secretary at this time was a very good friend of mine called Jimmy Reid, and we’re still close friends. A lot of other people on the National Executive at that time went on and became very respectable Labour mp’s in Parliament. Many of us started in the 1950’s in the Young Communist League. So that was my initial introduction into socialism and into political militancy. My father was a Communist. My mother was strictly non-political. But my father never forced me to be involved in politics at all. He left me to make my own judgments. Obviously the fact that the Daily Worker came into my house, the fact that Reynolds News came into my house, Tribune and other left-wing papers and books was bound to have an effect—this was one of the reasons I was able to read Jack London.
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